Donald Fry: CEOs are talking about Maryland’s competitiveness

By Donald C. Fry

On the issue of Maryland’s environment for business competitiveness, CEOs across Maryland are talking … electronically, that is.

CEOs, owners and managing executives of businesses – primarily from the Baltimore region – are responding to an online survey recently issued by the Greater Baltimore Committee to garner opinions about building a more competitive business environment in the region and state.

The GBC is conducting the survey to begin laying the groundwork for a major CEO conference on competitiveness it will convene on June 12 at the Hilton Baltimore.

The purpose of the high-level event, an expansion of the GBC’s “Competitive Edge” initiative that produced eight core pillars for economic growth and job creation, is to develop a specific policy agenda, based on the eight core pillars, for a more competitive climate for business growth in the region and state.

Maryland has significant and widely-acknowledged competitive strengths, including its technology and innovation resources, education, and quality of workforce. Many in government feel that these assets alone are enough to prompt business decisions to operate and expand here and to foster strong economic growth and a high quality of life.

But the reality is that competition among states, regions, and global locations for business growth is fierce. And, despite our state’s substantial strengths, economic development experts and business leaders here and elsewhere too often rank Maryland in the middle-of-the-pack when it comes to its competitiveness as a place to do business.

What’s on the minds of CEOs who have responded so far to the GBC’s survey on competitiveness? Not surprisingly, much comment has centered on taxes, government spending and regulation. Respondents so far are also surprisingly passionate about environmental issues and the Chesapeake Bay.

CEO respondents have rendered opinions, both pro and con, relating to income tax rates, corporate taxes, tax rates for commercial and industrial equipment and other issues that directly impact business costs.

Many had issues with the “millionaire’s tax,” while others favored higher taxes for those with higher personal incomes.

Responding to a question about cutting taxes, respondents range from some who feel that lower taxes would ultimately generate more revenue for government from business growth to others who feel that income taxes should be reduced, but that other taxes, such as the sales tax, could be increased.

Some feel that business taxes shouldn’t be cut, because businesses need government services, and services have a cost.

Tax incentives for business location and growth also drew divergent comments from a number of respondents.

On the topic of government spending, opinions have so far ranged from a suggestion that government spending be tied to the state’s Gross Domestic Product to a comment that spending government money to grow businesses should not be a government function.

However, the most passion from CEOs so far has been generated by an open-ended question asking what, specifically, needs to be done to enhance economic growth and job creation in Maryland and by a similar question asking what the top business competitiveness priorities should be for the Greater Baltimore region.

This is a good sign. The purpose of the survey is to elicit from the private-sector as many specific suggestions as possible for improving business growth. But it’s still early in this information-gathering process to identify a consensus among CEOs about the critical core issue that will shape the post-recession economic growth and quality of life in our region and state – competitiveness.

This is one of those instances where the GBC’s message to private-sector owners and executives whose businesses will drive our future economy is simple: “You can’t give us too much information.”

Please, inundate the GBC with your thoughts. If you are a CEO, general manager or business owner and haven’t already weighed in, take 15 minutes to participate in the online survey. To begin, click on one of the links below:

Online version of GBC survey.

GBC survey in pdf format.

Few things are more important to Maryland’s future than the topic of competitiveness. And who better to guide the process of improving it than the experts on the topic – private business owners and managers? We want and need to hear from you.

Donald C. Fry is president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee. He is a regular contributor to Center Maryland.

Recent Center Maryland columns by Donald C. Fry:

Lessons from the port’s record year

Latest business climate rankings for Maryland range from 5th to 41st

Workforce wellness survey: high enthusiasm, spotty evaluation

Brainstorming in search of transportation funding consensus

It’s complicated, but gas pipeline replacement proposal worth a look

Proposed budget frames state’s fiscal contrasts

Transportation funding: will it be a genuine priority in Annapolis this year?